Thursday, May 19, 2016

With Friends Like These...!

When you think of "comic relief" in a comic book, two characters who might come to mind are the famous pair who became steadfast friends and supporters of Tony Stark throughout the evolution of Iron Man, ever since their debut in late 1963--Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan, Stark's gal Friday and right-hand man, respectively. Created when alliteration was often resorted to in naming characters who were meant to become memorable, Happy and Pepper were added as supporting cast members in Iron Man's early days from Tales Of Suspense--both getting their start in the comic together, and receiving generous billing on their issue's cover, at that.

Often the foil for each other (though Happy more so than Pepper), the characters provided a more humanizing emphasis on Stark, who would of course be spending most of the issue's time in his identity-concealing armor-- giving us an excuse to peek behind the doors of Stark's office environment, and eventually becoming his trusted aides. Most of their scenes had them playing off one another, while Stark observed and often chuckled at the acerbic nature of their interplay--and for awhile, that back-and-forth between them defined their characters, as well as their relationship with each other.

Happy came into Stark's life as the millionaire playboy was driving a race car, and it became involved in an accident that nearly turned lethal. Fortunately, Happy was on the scene to save Stark's life--and Stark would not only turn out to be impressed by Happy's selflessness, but also by his character.

Happy's position as a chauffeur would become a running joke in the mag, since Stark often either chose to drive his own collection of stylish and expensive cars, or travel alone due to the possibility of needing to become Iron Man. As a result, Happy spent most of his time in the executive offices, where he expended considerable effort trying to wear down the formidable Miss Potts, who had her eye on another person in their office.

(Take a good look at Happy's depiction here by artist Don Heck. His gruff, weathered features fit his character to a T--at least, for now.)

And so while Iron Man continues to go into action, these two continue to chip away at each other, in a series of scenes that are best described as variations on a theme.

Eventually, Stark decides it's best to discourage Pepper's feelings toward him, and he begins to become indifferent to her advances--finally having the desired effect, as Pepper takes the first steps toward moving in the direction of the last person who expected her to do so. And later, when Pepper invokes a bit of deception in sending the voluptuous Veronica Vogue packing, Stark retaliates by providing Happy with another opportunity to see Pepper socially.

The pair spend even more time together when Happy steps in for Stark while the latter is missing. On the surface, their relationship seems status quo--but as we can see, Happy's features are beginning to change, little by little, to accommodate a slowly growing rapport with Pepper, even if his hands-on skills behind a desk leave something to be desired.

It's only when Happy is seriously injured in an attack on the Stark factory by the Unicorn that the ice breaks between these two characters. There still remains an informal love triangle involving Stark--but Pepper and Happy are at least on the road to establishing themselves as friends, though Stark sees a bit more.

Initially, though, that doesn't mean that Pepper is about to lay off the "big lug."

Stark opens the door further for the pair when he returns after being presumed dead. By this time, Stark has wrestled back and forth with his own feelings for Pepper; at the same time, Happy's friendship with Stark has kept Happy from asserting himself with either of the other two, keeping all three of them in a holding pattern. Yet now, Stark honors his own friendship with Happy, and does what he feels is the right thing for all concerned.

(Notice how nicely Happy is starting to clean up these days?)

It takes awhile for Stark to come to terms with his decision--but an accident at his factory settles the matter for all of them, as Pepper irrefutably makes her choice.

(Looks like Pepper got the number of Veronica Vogue's hairdresser!)

Happy and/or Pepper would go on to make appearances in Invincible Iron Man well into its run, lending credence to the caption boldly announcing them on their premiere cover, and accurately predicting that they would go the distance.

You just know these two deserve their own pin-up!

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